Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media
July 17, 2012 – 10:09AM
Sea Shepherd conservationists are to mount an Australian mainland campaign for the first time, against the $35 billion Browse gas hub project.
The activists will this week set off in their flagship, Steve Irwin, to draw attention to potential impacts on humpback whales of the giant project near Broome, Western Australia.
In alliance with the former Greens leader, Bob Brown, and local Aboriginal people, the activists will steam from Melbourne to the Kimberley coast – the main breeding ground for the booming West Australian humpback population.
“I’ll be helping to lead this trip to draw attention to the fact that this is not a good place for a giant gas factory, with huge ships coming to and fro,” said Dr Brown, who has joined the Sea Shepherd advisory board.
Woodside and its partners will pipe gas ashore from the Browse Basin for processing and export at James Price Point, if one of Australia’s largest energy projects gains final investment approval.
It includes dredging a 20-kilometre channel and building a two-kilometre jetty to access the liquefied natural gas from an onshore plant.
Impacts on marine fauna such as whales, dugongs and turtles were admitted when the West Australian government gave the environmental green light to the project yesterday.
The West Australian Environment Protection Authority’s chairman, Paul Vogel, said the region’s humpback stock had increased “exponentially” since last century’s whaling, despite the parallel increase in iron ore and petroleum projects along the coast.
“Creating any industrial undertaking, particularly one of this magnitude, will have an environmental impact. However, these impacts and risks can be managed to an acceptable level,” Dr Vogel said.
Conditions imposed by Dr Vogel include suspending marine pile driving and blasting for part of the humpback migration season. He made the approval decision alone after four other EPA board members declared conflicts of interest.
Until now Sea Shepherd has seen Australia mainly as a base for its hard-fought campaigns against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic.
A group of Aboriginal leaders of the Golarabooloo people told Sea Shepherd in a letter: “We have seen the work you have done to protect the whales in the Southern Ocean.
“We would appreciate any support you can give us to protect the humpback in our Sea Country from the proposal to build an industrial port at James Price Point for LNG export.”
The activists’ leader, Paul Watson, replied that the project was disrespectful to the area’s original people and marine species.
“There are sacred places in this world that should not be scarred with the ugliness of greed and disrespect for nature,” Mr Watson said.
He said he would not be able to join the ship for the vigil. He is being detained on bail in Germany while its courts consider an extradition request from Costa Rica over 10-year-old navigation charges. Papers outlining the case have arrived in Germany from Costa Rica, he said.
Sea Shepherd’s Australian director, Jeff Hansen, said the Kimberley whale campaign would not be aggressive. “Australians need to see what’s at stake there,” Mr Hansen said.
Dr Brown said political leaders from Western Australia and Canberra would be invited to join the voyage. “We’ll find room for them,” he said.